svchost.exe hogs CPU use, causes PC to lock up

Is your PC locking up randomly? Have you checked Task Manager and found that svchost.exe is utilizing the CPU 100%? The problem could be related to Microsoft Office and Windows Installer updates.

Recently my PC began locking up randomly.

One of the first things I did was to check Task Manager. I found that svchost.exe, a system process in Windows that handles processes executed from DLLs, was utilizing the CPU 100%.

This gave me fits for a day and a half before I finally I got to the bottom of the problem. The problem seems to occurs on PCs with Microsoft Office installed. The actual cause of the problem is likely Windows Update Agent trying to scan for Windows Installer updates. A simple way to test whether this is the case is to use Windows XP Process Explorer, a free utility from Microsoft.

If Windows Update Agent is the problem, when the system locks up, you'll see the Windows Update Client (WUAUCLT and maybe Update) listed in the Process Explorer. Apparently scanning for Microsoft Office updates is a CPU-intensive task.

Microsoft has a hotfix for this issue, but to get it you need to call Microsoft and reference Knowledge Base article 916089. However, this hotfix does not eliminate the problem; it only decreases its overall impact. In fact, once you apply the hotfix, you'll likely have to apply Knowledge Base article 927891 afterwards to fix errors associated with this hotfix.

Note: The hotfix posted in Knowledge Base 916089 now has a second version. Stay tuned for further updates.

Further note: The fix may not resolve the issue. Apparently Microsoft is still working out the kinks. They should call Microsoft and get on the "contact me" list.

Update on May 17: Here's a site that offers a script for resolving issues with WSUS clients for svchost.exe and other CPU utilization issues.

About the author: Tim Fenner(MCSE, MCSA: Messaging, Network+ and A+) is a senior systems administrator who oversees a Microsoft Windows, Exchange and Office environment, as well as an independent consultant who specializes in the design, implementation and management of Windows networks.

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This was first published in March 2007

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